Posted on March 4, 2024

More Than Half of Tory Members in Poll Say Islam a Threat to British Way of Life

Kiran Stacey, The Guardian, February 28, 2024

More than half of Conservative party members believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life, according to a poll that sheds light on the hostility with which large parts of the party view the country’s second biggest religion.

The poll of 521 Conservative members by Opinium found that 58% say Islam poses a threat to this country – double the proportion of the overall population who believe the same. It found that 52% believe the increasingly prominent conspiracy theory that parts of European cities are under sharia law and are “no-go” areas for non-Muslims.

The findings give an insight into why senior members of the party have refused to condemn the recent comments by Lee Anderson about the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, as Islamophobic.

They also suggest the party is shifting to the right on immigration and religion in a way that could prove critical in deciding who will be leader if Rishi Sunak steps down after the election.

Nick Lowles, the founder of Hope Not Hate, which commissioned the poll, wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian: “It’s clear from the events of the past week that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment runs deep in the Conservative party – but [this poll] illustrates the problem starkly.”

Anderson’s comments last weekend sparked anger among some in the Tory party but received impassioned defence from many others.

Anderson, who was the deputy party chair, said on GB News that he thought Khan, one of the country’s most prominent Muslim politicians, was being controlled by Islamists. Sunak removed the Tory whip from Anderson as a result but has refused to say the comments constitute Islamophobia.

Downing Street said on Tuesday: “At a moment when tensions are running high, it is right for people to expect a high level of consideration to be given by politicians to the words they use.”

Other prominent Conservatives have defended Anderson, including the former home secretary Suella Braverman who said on Monday that the row over his comments constituted “hysteria”.

Anderson himself has since doubled down on what he said, refusing to apologise and attacking Khan for not banning pro-Palestinian marches in London.

Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that grassroots Tory members are backing Anderson over Sunak. The Guardian revealed on Monday that members of the Conservative Democratic Organisation had sent each other WhatsApp messages calling Sunak a “snake” for suspending Anderson and argued that Anderson should be allowed to return.

The Opinium poll also found Tory members are twice as likely to have a negative view of immigrants as a positive one, significantly more likely to have a negative view of feminists than a positive one, and slightly more likely to have a negative view of LGBT+ people than a positive one.

Nearly three-quarters believed that immigration had been bad for Britain and that multiculturalism was not working, while 40% believed feminism had gone too far, compared with 28% who did not.

A comparison with findings from a poll that Hope Not Hate commissioned in 2020 suggests these opinions are hardening. Four years ago 47% of Tory members said they believed Islam posed a threat to the British way of life.

That 2020 poll was commissioned for the Singh review, an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative party, which found there was no evidence of institutional Islamophobia in the party.

Some have criticised that review in recent days for being too narrowly focused. Sajjad Karim, a former Tory MEP, told the Guardian’s First Edition newsletter this week: “I can go back to about 2012 or 2013 when I first started to detect some of this type of talk. We haven’t got here suddenly. But the party really has to get a grip of it now.”

He added: “[The Singh review] ended up sending a signal to the party membership that was basically ‘Muslims are fair game’.”

Lowles said: “Based on the views of Conservative members, it’s clear why Anderson, Braverman et al feel increasingly emboldened to push the boundaries of decency and speak negatively of Muslims, immigrants and multiculturalism more generally. The battle for the soul of the Conservative party has begun, and so far the radical right is winning.”

While many Tory members hold hardline views on cultural and societal issues, they are not backing the candidates who arguably most represent those positions.

The poll found that Braverman is only second favourite among members to be the next Tory leader with 16% support, while Kemi Badenoch, the combative business secretary, is third with 8%. The most popular candidate is instead the more centrist Penny Mordaunt, who commands the support of 22% of members.